The starling of the spire; or, A bird's eye view of the church as it was online

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IN the following Sketches, some authentic and well-
known facts, relating to the Clergy of the past century,
are introduced ; in contrast with the self-denying, earnest,
and devoted men of the present time ; men, who shed a
lustre on their sacred profession, and are deserving of the
highest praise : who wisely steer clear of formalism on the
one hand, and scepticism on the other.


" A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which
hath wings shall tell, the matter."

Eccles. x, 20.

FM a starling endow' d with wondrous sense,
Which is rare in these modern days ; .

And presume to chatter, with some pretence,
Of my knowledge of Parsons' ways.

All my early life was joyously spent,
In and near a most noble church ;

I knew ev'ry stone of its battlement,
And each crocket I made my perch.

Very high was the spire, its structure light ;

And architects often have said,
That but few in this land surpassed its height,

Their remarks enlighten' d my head.



They've agreed that the flying buttress too,

In our country was seldom seen ;
With such men as these, I've had much to do,

For amongst them I've often been.

As the stranger has view'd the eastern end,

I've listen'd to what he would say ;
And have notic'd that one, much time would spend,

Whilst another would walk away.

Both the cross and crown of thorns, form'd the gem

Of this architectural sight ;
And the graceful form of the diadem,

Stood out well in the mellow' d light.

I have quaked at times when the thunder's crash

Has awoke me at night from sleep ;
And still more have I fear'd the lightning's flash,

Might lay all in a crumbling heap.

Very proudly I've watch' d the stately spire,
When the play of the storm was spent ;

Eejoic'd that no shocks of electric fire,
The time-honour'd fabric had rent.

'Neath its shade hard by did the Kect'ry stand,

Surrounded by many a tree ;
As we Starlings (of course) had full command,

We were happy as birds could be.

Whilst sitting one day in a musing mood,

The bells chiming sweetly and clear,
'Twas a fancy of mine, the peal was good,

And their melody charm' d my ear.

They merrily rang a new Bishop in,
Which made me most eager to know,

How amongst his flock he meant to begin,
So I flew about to and fro !

To the Eector's house in the evening came,
Some neighbouring Parsons to dine ;

As I soon discovered this Prelate's aim,
Was to meet his Clergy (in fine.)

Into rooms I peep'd with curious eyes,

And listen'd at every nook ;
His lordship, I fancied, was very wise,

As a charm attended his look.


How cautious all were, how mild and how good !

Each sought an impression to make :
Most thoughtfully too they partook of food,

Whilst none too much wine dar'd to take.

The Curates look'd meek ; but, I knew not why,
The Rectors and Vicars more free :

But to ally it matter'd not who were nigh,
The Bishop was kind as could be.

They had much to discuss from far and near,
Oh ! their hearts with such zeal were fill'd !

And as he attracted each Parson's ear,
Some godly advice was instill'd.

I observ'd that these were a favor' d few,

Allow' d a more fortunate chance ;
(In the morning their numbers largely grew,

As to Church I saw them advance.)

But just as I left, for my nightly perch,
I flew round the rooms once again ;

What pleas'd me the most in my eager search,
Oh listen ! all Clerical men.

By the light of a lamp that Bishop read,

With a countenance all benign ;
On the Holy Bible the beams were shed,

For he treasur'd each sacred line.

He glean'd from its pages his solemn trust,

Then devoutly he bent the knee ;
To be faithful to God he felt he must

In prayer for his help often be.

I moralized long at that silent hour,

Being wrapt in a pensive mood :
I said to myself, " Now, I've learn' d the power,

And the secret of doing good !"

It struck me, perchance, I could seek the homes,
Of some neighbouring Parish Priests ;

For 'tis nothing strange, if a Starling roams,
Over country, or towns and streets.

So off to the belfry I flew away,
To dream o'er my evening's sight ;

Determin'd to stay in the Church next day,
And be there with the dawning light.

The bells rang again on the morrow's morn,

And I sought out a snug retreat ;
To quiz not, I vow, for that I should scorn,

So demurely I took my seat.

In a darken' d corner, unseen by all,
With cobwebs in plenty for shade ;

I look'd on the choir, the nave, and the stall,
And my patience was well repaid.

As the Clergy pass'd by in robes of black,

With the Prelate in one of white,
Why surely of Priests there can be no lack,

I thought : but alas ! 'twas not right.

They were seated at last, and then a charge

The Bishop deliver'd to all :
Oh who could behold that number so large,

And not solemn feelings recall ?

He told them that need there was now for prayer,
He spake of the thousands who die,

With no one to seek them, no one to care,
For the outcast's penitent cry.

He spake of the homes and the dens of vice,
Where their presence might comfort bring,

And by Christian acts of love entice,
Till sorrow each bosom should wring.

Of the lonely widow and cottage poor,
And the heart-broken orphan child,

Where no Minister comes to seek their door,
And console them with accents mild.

He drew a dark picture of foreign lands,
Where they never had heard of G-od ;

Of the heathen untaught on Afric's sands,
And the scourge of the Slaver's rod !

He enlarged on the need of faithful men,
In those districts remote and vast,

Of money for building Churches, and then
What glory on England might last.

He urg'd on them always to dwell in love,

To fulfil the Divine commands :
To rest all their hopes on a home above,

And to strengthen each other's hands.



He warn'd tliem of error, in language kind,

(For the tempter was ever near),
He told them to cherish an humble mind,

Nor forget they were pilgrims here.

Their flocks were in danger, in days like these,

If shepherds deserted their post ;
How could they contentedly dwell at ease,

Whilst Satan was busy the most !

Here he paus'd and gently a sigh escap'd,
Follow' d closely by vows and prayers,

From many ; though others too often gap'd,
All engross' d by their worldly cares.

Then followed the blessing, and each arose,
While their names were call'd out aloud,

They answer' d if there, as ev'ry one knows ;
When 'twas over the Proctor bow'd.

Thus ended the scene, and the Church was hush'd,
In its stillness and death-like gloom :

I waited no longer ; but quickly rush'd
To my friends in the belfry room.


And now for a time I remained at home,
With my future plans to arrange ;

In the coming winter I fix'd to roam,
And indulge in this hobby strange.

I thought that a convocation of birds
Might assist me by their advice ;

But their constant chatter and flow of words,
Would not be, perhaps, very nice.

And then if they quarrell'd, how very wrong,
For birds, like mankind, can't agree,

Unless they're endow'd with a wisdom strong,
And a spirit of charity !

So all things consider'd, my secret slept,
And my council was never call'd.

"Tis comfort to know that one's mind is kept,
From the sense of being enthrall'd !

The fogs of the autumn had roll'd away,
For long had they shrouded the spire ;

A sunshiny, bracing, and frosty day,
Was a change we must all admire.



I quitted the town for a country life,

Eejoicing in ambient air ;
Nothing loth to escape its noise and strife.

To commence my inspection there.

A lovely village attracted my gaze,

As the sun was about to set,
Such a fairy land it look'd in the haze,

That my mind reverts to it yet.

The Church was embosom' d in lofty trees,

And ivy crept over its tow'r ;
Close sheltered, from every chilling breeze,

Eound its walls grew many a flow'r.

The fading beams, with their deepening hue,
Seem'd to flit o'er the sculptured cross,

And hanging willow, with darkening yew,
Told the tale of the heart's deep loss.

In a rookery near I sought a nest,

Where the oak and the wytch elm grew ;

It suited my wings to enjoy some rest,
As the ground was cover'd with dew.


The beautiful woodland ascended high

Near a lake in the distant vale ;
Fair nature had blended her sweets to try

And give pleasure within this dale.

The mansion was large, in the Gothic style,

Like an old baronial hall ;
An ancient grandeur embellish' d the pile,

And heraldry blaz'd on its wall.

Its owner for years had in orders been,

(As a family living pass'd
From father to son, or the next of kin,

Like an heir-loom ever to last.)

It puzzled me often, I must confess,
When I saw him throughout the week

In hunting costume ; and in change of dress,
He would sometimes profanely speak.

Much care was bestow' d on his handsome stud,
For his stables were quite his pride ;

I've watch' d him return all cover'd with mud,
After many a hard day's ride.


His duties were many, and well fulfill' d,
On the bench or at weekly board ;

In politics too he was also skill' d,

And with knowledge his head was stor'd.

I fear that his own ordination vows
Too seldom return'd to his mind,

'Tis sad when the judgment to pleasure bows,
Leaving conscience asleep behind.

His son was his Curate, and did his best

To resemble his worthy sire ;
Their sports they pursued with far greater zest

Than what holier aims inspire.

There was one of his daughters, fair and good
(A Starling can judge but by ways);

In all parish visits she foremost stood :
'Tis but right I award her praise.

I have seldom look'd on a face so sweet

As that of the beautiful Maude,
For often unwittingly we did meet,

On her errands of love abroad.


Her footfall I've heard on the crispy grass,

As quickly and lightly she went ;
It always rejoic'd me to watch her pass,

On her mission of kindness bent.

She had found no charm in the world's gay sphere,
Though its brightest forms she had seen ;

They but help'd to entrance the soul whilst here,
And from heavenly objects wean.

Not a fitful zeal did her heart possess,

Nor in vain had baptismal vows
Been uttered, meaningless things to express,

As the worldling often allows.

I was just deciding to end my stay,

When a whisper breath'd through the park,

From voices familiar, grave, and gay,
Of which I had been in the dark.

I flew unperceiv'd to the servants' hall
One night, and relinquish' d my sleep ;

Most slyly I settled outside its wall
For Starlings you know are so deep.


Miss Maude had collected her father's poor,

To bid them a parting adieu,
And sis presents for each adorn' d the floor,

The tears that were shed were not few.

' * I '

" She was just what ^Parson's wife should be,"
They said, " but her loss they would feel."

The bells in the morning told merrily

Her bridal for woe or for weal.

I care not to witness events like these,
\ Being common with birds and men ;
But when they occur amongst the grandees,
They are far more attractive then.

And a special fancy allur'd me on
To a lancet window I knew ;

Such a fair young bride as we look'd upon

Had drawn all the neighbourhood too.

As the sun in its brightest glory shone

On her bridal and chaste attire,
It betokened blessings on her from one

Whose love was her truest desire.


All vanish' d-^-and scenes of a festive kind

WlnTd away the remaining hours ;
Both nature and art in beauty combined,

And recherches were fruit and flowers.

'Twas a brilliant sight, when the hall was lit,

And the table displayed its plate,
To see lords an^ladies together sit

At the Sector's In costly state.

Both Fortnum and G-unter prestige maintain' d

In the sumptuous bill trf fare ;
Whist settled the old as th& ev'ning waned,

Terpsichore, youth and the fair.

I peer'd through the curtains, then took my leave,

Amaz'd at such glitter and show :
I thought it was scarcely the kind of eve

For apostles of Christ below.

There were certain times when the Clergy met,
To partake of the bounteous cheer

At the Sector's hall, when covers were set
For his brethren from far and near.


All sorts then assembled the high and low,
And broad, or what name you may please ;

The Eector of course would politeness shew
To Oxford Divines, or St. Bees'.

But one poor Curate was always a guest,

And excited my feelings sore ;
In a coat, alas ! not one of the best,

He appear' d at his Eector' s door.

Transferr'd it had been by charity's hand
From the pluralist's well-clothed back,

Whose servants behind him would daily stand,
In gorgeous array without lack.

After such a reunion I was led

To discover this Curate's home ;
As he walk'd, I watch'd the way he would tread,

It was dreary and wearisome.

He had scarcely quitted the warm saloon,
Ere a snow storm thicken'd the air :

But he brav'd the cold, and the mantled moon
Help'd him onward his toil to bear.


I saw him enter his humble abode
It was long past the dead of night ;

His industrious wife for hours had sew'd
By one dismal dull candle's light.

Nothing strange it seem'd, for her eyes were dim,

(A crevice disclos'd her employ)
But how thankfully did she welcome him,

Most fondly expressing her joy.

It was pinching work, with a stipend small,

(Not more than a hundred a year)
To satisfy each necessitous call,

When provisions were very dear.

And I heard as a fact 'twas all they had,

(With eight little children to feed)
But it tried them most when a case more sad

Came before them of bitter need.

The mite they bestow'd with a loving heart

Cost them self-denial unknown ;
From family comforts they'd sooner part,

Than refuse a poor starving one !


Their household by method was ruled aright,

And leisure for teaching secur'd ;
They aided parochial schools in spite

Of numerous hardships endur'd.

A faithful domestic, whose orphan life
Had been nurtured beneath their roof,

Was the only help of the Curate's wife,
Though poverty tested her worth.

I witness'd a Christmas festival there ;

On its joyous and merry eve
Both parents and children forgot their care,

In the garlands I saw them weave.

With laurel and holly their room was drest,
Each 'wishing to add a fresh bough;

The children all pleas' d were cloth'd in their best
A thing they could seldom allow.

The yule log look'd bright, and tea was prepar'd ;

A cake at this season was made,
For some poor parishioners always shar'd

The frugal repast that they laid.


They sang Christmas carols in concert sweet,

Infant voices together, rose ;
It look'd well the Pastor his flock should meet,

And with praises the ev'ning close.

No feature of interest mark'd the church,

Or bespoke any outward grace,
Not even the cypress or silver birch,

Screening neatly the sacred place.

Its discordant bell, although crack' d and old,

On the great Nativity' s~ morn
Assembled a group I lik'd to behold,

To hear of their Lord being born.

An earnest discourse full of Gospel truths,
That the weakest mind could receive,

Told of peace and good will to all who'd choose
Their Saviour in faith to believe.

He caution' d communicants, ere they came
To His Table, to prove their hearts,

That their lives be holy and free from blame,
Shewing fruits the Spirit imparts.

' 22

It happen'd I heard what the people thought
Of this plain unpretending Priest,

From the Sexton's lips, and I knew he ought
To be judge of his ways at least.

As he slowly dug on, he gravely said

To a list'ning dissenting friend :
" The man who lies now in his coffin dead,

Has been spared a most awful end !

" A greater infidel never did walk,
'Or such harm in the place had done ;

'Twas shocking to hear his blasphemous talk-
No worse could be under the sun.

" But thanks to his Minister, under God,
The Bible was true, he confess' d,

And now with comfort I turn up this sod,
With hope that he's gone to his rest.

" They needn't have Chapels, if men like ours
Stood up in the Churches to preach ;

And pity it is that, with all his pow'rs,
He has not more people to teach.


" When any are ill or dying, lie goes
To pray by their beds or console ;

To Churchmen alike with Methodists, shews
How he values a precious soul !"

Spring flowers were peeping from under leaves,
With charming profusion and scent,

And sparrows were chirping on cottage eaves,
As flying above them I went.

I chanc'd to observe a cross on a pump,

That stood in a garden hard by
The place where I stopp'd, on an old tree stump,

And ponder'd awhile to know why.

My curious mind discover' d the fact,
'Twas the Yicar's pump I had found ;

Offence it had giv'n, being judg'd an act
Too Popish for Protestant ground.

Too far he'd exceeded the Church's use

In symbols and crosses and albs ;
And some had been heard this Priest to accuse

Of interest in Eomish cabals.


Whatever he was, a celibate life

Was right in his office, he said :
The parish lost much, as a useful wife

Might his judgment have rightly led.

In our Anglican Church, his vestments strange

Bewildered the ignorant poor ;
Innovations like these produced a change,

And drove them to Meeting-house door.

The eight o'clock bell chim'd for him alone,
For his household, (a scanty few)

Had stoutly refus'd their prayers to intone,
Professing they'd too much to do.

Great things were expected when Easter came,

So the villagers all declared,
Profuse decorations appear'd his aim

In his Church, and no pains were spared.

The altar seem'd far the most sacred spot,

With its candles and crucifix ;
And choicest exotics that could be. got

Adorn'd the gold Chalice and Pix.


The pure simple service of Easter Day

Was veil'd in mysterious forms ;
Genuflexions and rites help'd not t' allay

The sinner whose conscience had qualms.

The Priest did not kneel for the Spirit's aid,

Ere in surplice he rose to preach ;
I knew not why such omission was made

Like his words, 'twas beyond my reach.

Not even the Holy Eucharist drew
Willing steps from a number great,

As I saw when over how very few

Left the Church, through the Churchyard gate.

It was on this noted " Lord's day of joy,"

The font for immersion receiv'd
A mother's pale, delicate baby-boy,

" More water more grace" she believ'd !

It shiver'd when plac'd in its mother's arms,

She fear'd any longer to stay ;
Convulsions occasion'd the worst alarms,

And slowly its life ebb'd away.


A hubbub succeeded the people vow'd
Their infants should go unbaptiz'd,

If customs uncheck'd should be still allow'd,
And opinions were undisguis'd.

The Yicar had fail'd thus to win their love

By his formal and rigid code ;
The Saints he'd extoll'd more than Christ above,

And lauded the " Mother of God."

It suited his Sabbatarian views,
To keep strictly the service hours ;

After which by train he often would choose
To recruit his bodily pow'rs.

The village was left to dissent or games,

On its winter and summer eve,
And Chapels abounded with pressing claims,

Trying moral good to achieve.

What with hockey and quoits, God's holy law

"Was profan'd on His blessed day :
Such scenes discourag'd my reverent awe

And I could not in conscience stay !


Two persons were once most deeply engross' d
Near a Church I much wish'd to see ;

Ee-building the Chancel was uppermost,
And they did not at all agree.

The Squire and Incumbent, I soon inferr'd,
Had different plans of their own,

And sadly a spirit of discord stirr'd
What had better been left alone.

The latter, for popularity's sake,
(Seeking Nonconformist applause)

Would hardly a Churchman's opinions take,
Or treated them lightly as straws.

The former, whose acres enrich'd his purse,
As Lay-Sector receiv'd the tithes,

But to low Church ways was ever averse,
Hence the quarrels that would arise.

He contended the good old times were best,
When repairs were done by a rate ;

And these days of reform he hated, lest
The Church be divided from state.


His mind he spoke freely, as proud blood flow'd

Through his aristocratic veins :
" Mr. Vicar, you've too great leaning shew'd

To dissent your Bishop complains.

" You undermine Sacraments Christ ordain'd,

By your heterodoxical views ;
Dissenter in heart, you are still maintain' d

By a cure you like not to lose.

" Times are changed since the Parson used to dine
In silk stockings and buckles bright,

And could drink his bottle or two of wine,
With a rubber of whist at night.

" At any mix'd meeting you take the chair,

Forgetting your office and gown,
And you meet all sorts of Ministers there !

Do you do it to gain renown ?

" Too seldom at home, too often abroad,

Believe me I hear of your ways ;
You aim not so much to glorify God,

As you seek to court human praise.


" When you're smoking your pipe (a habit bad)
With your friends at the midnight hour,

It seems to my mind deplorably sad
To resist not temptation's pow'r.

" You check not the spirit of parish news

By a dignified, quiet air ; ,
But gladly the village tea-table choose,

Where its scandal is welcom'd there.

" And now you oppose restoring G-od's House,

Befitting his temple and shrine,
Because your allies, with whom you carouse,

Against decorations combine."

I eagerly caught up the Vicar's words,

As he answer' d the charges grave :
Who can fathom the minds of clever birds,

Or explain the instinct they have ?

" c Facts are stubborn things,' though times, Sir,
are bad,

I think I can prove they were worse
Ere villages resident Clergy had,

A step to which most were averse.


" In cheerful towns they selected abodes,

Far off from their several cures,
When often excuses of dreadful roads

Deterr'd them from fens and from moors.

" A winter's neglect reach* d a Bishop's ears,

Who reproved the Parish Priest,
But he tried to assuage his Lordship's fears,

Not abash'd in the very least.

" ' No parson could travel by such a way,

I'm assur'd,' he coolly replied,
And I'll shepherd my flock the first spring day,

When it's fit for myself to ride.

" What think you when one also stacked his hay
Within the Church Porch to keep dry, f

And until his pony eat it away,
He never for service came nigh ?

" Another relinquish'd his pulpit once

For a time, to a sitting goose,
As there she fancied herself to ensconce,

Till she found she could spare its use.


" Do'nt be shocked to hear that one bought a pig

After prayers on a sabbath morn,
In a sack he took it home in his gig,

To eat up the refuse of corn.

" A Priest, whom I knew, liked his port too well,
And his clerk used to lead hinvhome ;

But many delinquencies could I tell,
You've obliged me to give you some.

" An Oxford Divine, a long time ago,
Who drove ev'ry Sunday some miles,

His fighting cocks kept in his pulpit low,
Tied up in a basket meanwhiles.

" It suited him well, for the Monday's fight
Came off not much further that way,

It troubled him little (with conscience light)
So long as the birds quiet lay.

" I've heard of an Irish Bishop, who took

Such pleasure in fishing, that he
In driving to Church, was tempted to hook

A Salmon he happen' d to see.


"It pains me to state such cases as these,

"Tis only the contrast to shew
How Parsons themselves seem'd only to please,

But now they have plenty to do.

" Can you wonder dissent was rampant then,

So short of our duties we came,
When ungodly and inconsistent men

Were ordain'd for mere worldly aim ?

" By mixing amongst parishioners more,

And exerting an influence right,
I can truly say I visit their door

To spend a few hours at night.


" When I see they dislike our rites and forms,

As the poor nearly always do,
If I can, I steer clear of parish storms,

My conviction approves it too.

" You must own my congregations increase,

It is wiser to draw than drive ;
By driving, schismatics will not decrease,

Then to win them back I will strive !"


I left them to settle as best they could,
How it ended I never knew,

It seem'd as if neither did any good,
So away from the scene I flew.

I settled ere long in a village small,
Where neatness and order prevail' d ;

And, judging by cottages one and all,
The appearance of want was veil'd.

The Parson with scrupulous taste and care
Had demolish' d each pauper's hut ;

Having means in plenty and much to spare,
He'd banish' d the slattern and slut.


Online LibraryAThe starling of the spire; or, A bird's eye view of the church as it was → online text (page 1 of 2)